Chelsea maintained their perfect start the Premier League season with a 4-2 home win over Swansea. Jose Mourinho's side were too disjointed in their pressing early on, allowing too much space between the midfield and back four, but improved in that area just before the half hour mark and took firm control of the game from there.
Mourinho opted for the same starting 11 and 4-2-3-1 formation he used in Chelsea's first two games against Burnley and Leicester with Cesc Fabregas playing a deeper role in midfield just in front of Nemanja Matic and Oscar as the most advanced midfielder. The Matic-Fabregas holding midfield partnership appears as though it'll be one Mourinho uses at home or against weaker opposition. It allows Chelsea to have an additional creative player on the pitch but comes at the expense of playing two defensive holders to protect the back four and as a result Chelsea can become a bit more stretched. The presence of an additional creator against weaker opposition is an important one- too often last season Chelsea were unable to break down deep defenses. On the road at Everton Mourinho played Fabregas as the #10 with Ramires partnering Matic in the holding roles in a move that in theory was meant to make the side more compact at the back. They went on to concede three that day in a 6-3 win but the personnel decision reflects Mourinho's focus on not losing and allowing the opposition to make mistakes against top sides on the road rather than proactively setting up to take the game to the opposition. We'll likely see Fabregas as the #10 next week away to Manchester City with two defensive holders behind.
Gary Monk's only change to the side that won its first three league games was the inclusion of Bafetimbi Gomis for Wilfried Bony who had just met up with the team from international duty yesterday.
Chelsea press disjointed
Early on Chelsea appeared to be caught between two minds whether they wanted to press high up the pitch or drop off and defend in banks of four. At times Fabregas and Matic would step forward to join the front four and press but the Chelsea back four didn't step forward in tandem to play a higher line. As a result, there was a big gap between the pressing midfielders and the back four. Sigurdsson and Gomis got on the ball in these positions before moving it wide where Dyer and Routledge could use their pace to run at Azpilicueta and Ivanovic.
The two images below give an of Chelsea's failure to press as a unit. Diego Costa closes Amat down, Hazard is tight to Rangel, Matic has moved forward tight to Ki, Fabregas (just at the edge of the shot) is moving towards Shelvey, Oscar is in a position to deny a pass into Shelvey or close down Ashley Williams if Amat plays a square pass to his left. Here, the front six are in good pressing positions.
However, the back four are far too deep. Amat picks out Sigurdsson positioning himself between the lines (below). He receives the pass with loads of space to turn- you don't even see Chelsea's defenders in the screen shot below. With Swansea playing a lone striker, the Chelsea center backs have a 2 v. 1 advantage. Therefore, when the midfielders press, one should be able to step out from the defensive line and get tight to the back of Sigurdsson, not allowing him to turn.
It isn't hugely surprising that Terry and Cahill were reluctant to move up the pitch and play a higher line. While both are positionally solid, neither have a tremendous amount of pace and would be worried about opposition attackers running in behind them. Both are more comfortable playing a deeper line and dealing with high crosses into the box.
Chelsea's pressing midfielders were also at fault for the early struggles. They were hesitant and uncertain when closing down the ball and as a result Swansea had that extra second to pick their heads up and find a pass.
Chelsea press improves
Right around the half hour mark Chelsea began to press with more conviction. There was a 20 second or so spell where Fabregas and Oscar closed Shelvey 30 yards from goal and committed a foul. Amat played the resulting free kick square to Williams rather sending it forward and Diego Costa and Oscar immediately pressed the two Swansea center backs. Amat received a pass back from Williams and played the ball forward into Shelvey who was put under pressure straight away by Fabregas. He was forced to play back into Fabianski's feet and the goalkeeper simply had to hoof it forward to escape the pressure. From that point on Swansea couldn't find a way out of their own half and Chelsea took control of the game. In the opening 29 minutes Swansea completed 11 passes into the attacking third. For the remainder of the half they completed just 1.
Mourinho moves to 4-3-3
At the start of the second half Mourinho introduced Ramires for Schurrle and moved to a 4-3-3 shape. Matic anchored the midfield with Ramires to his right and Fabregas to his left, Oscar moved to an attacking right position. Chelsea continued to press relentlessly and man marked in midfield with Ramires and Fabregas versus Ki and Shelvey and Matic versus Sigurdsson in front of the Chelsea back four.
The major impact the change had for Chelsea was that it allowed Fabregas to get into more advanced areas to dictate tempo in the attacking third, knowing that he had two midfield partners in Ramires and Matic that were going to do the defensive leg work. With his position on the left of the Chelsea midfield trio he was able to create overloads and combine for 1-2's with Hazard in his position down the left channel. The two combined brilliantly for Chelsea and Diego Costa's second. Fabregas played 12 attacking third passes in the first half in his slightly deeper role, 17 in the second half before being subbed off in the 82nd including the assist to Costa.
Costa has been on fire, his hat trick today taking his tally on the season to 7 in 4 league matches. Mourinho lamented his lack of an in form striker last season. Costa's goals today were of the poaching sort Chelsea desperately lacked last season. Last season Torres constantly dropped between the lines to try to link play forward and at times was effective in doing so. However, he never seemed to pop up in key areas in the box to finish moves off. Costa doesn't drop off the opposition back four to get on the ball and link play forward- with the attacking midfielders Chelsea have he shouldn't need to. He'll drift into the to get on the ball and run at defenders but always gets himself into the right areas in the box when Chelsea get into dangerous positions. He's also an imposing physical presence. His headed opener showed his power and strength, his second and third showed his positional instincts.